What would a creationist homeschool science fair look like?
Laden offered more than just a snarky blanket condemnation of the creationism and science on display. Some of the exhibits, Laden wrote, were actually pretty good. In one exhibit, students created and explained plant tissue batteries, for instance.
Some students, though, conducted experiments that disappointed the mainstream scientists. One student, for instance, made salt stalactites to prove that they could form more quickly than some mainstream scientists believed. According to Laden, mainstream science already knew that even limestone stalactites could form fairly quickly. Another student retreated from science to explain animal behavior. Faced with a question he or she could not answer, one student told Laden that “a certain problem would be solved because ‘God put something in the animal to make that happen.’”
Best of all, IMHO, Laden recognized that some of the weaknesses of student presentations were not due to religious belief, but rather due to the age of the presenters. As Laden put it, “many of the limitations and shortfalls of the less than stellar posters were typical of small scale school science fairs in general, not peculiar to these students.”
This point is clearly one that could use more study. We observers of creationism and evolution education often lament the fact that relatively few students learn any real evolutionary science. But we must remember the broader point: relatively few students learn any real anything in too many of America’s schools. It is not fair to assume that students’ generally weak grasp of evolutionary concepts is necessarily due to religious dissent. Rather, we should measure the successful teaching of evolutionary concepts alongside other basic concepts such as the appreciation of literature, the history of the founding of the country, or algebra. My hunch is that the “shocking” weakness of most American adults in mastering the basic concepts of evolutionary theory might not look so shocking compared to the weakness of American adults in mastering other basic concepts.